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What you need to know about insect repellents for children

The summer heat brings out the bugs! But before you lather or spray your child with insect repellent, find out what’s in insect repellent and how it works before you decide on which type is the best for your children.

Insect repellent only repels insect bites

It’s important to keep in mind that insect repellents only help to prevent bites from biting insects, not stinging insects.

Stinging insects:

  • Bees
  • Hornets
  • Wasps

Most common summer bug bites and rashes >>

Biting insects:

  • Ticks
  • Fleas
  • Mosquitoes
  • Biting flies
  • Chiggers

Choosing an insect repellent for your kids

There are many kinds of insect repellents — from sprays and liquids to creams and wearable bracelets. But not every repellent has the same type of protection or ingredients. Some are more natural-based, others contain potentially harmful chemicals that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests limiting or avoiding all together.

What are the different options for insect repellents?

Chemical repellents containing Permethrin should never be applied directly onto skin. This repellent is so strong, it kills ticks on contact and should only be applied to clothing, tents, sleeping bags and other outdoor gear.

Repellents made from plant-based essential oils(citronella, cedar, eucalyptus and soybean, to name a few) provide short-term protection — usually less than two hours after initial application. According to the AAP, these repellents are often considered safest for children and although allergic reactions can occur, they are rare.

Chemical repellents with DEET(N-Diethyl-3-Methylbenzamide) are considered to be the best defense against insect bites, but according to the AAP, repellents containing DEET should be used with caution when applying on children — and not used on babies younger than 2 months. Depending on how much DEET is in the product, the length of protection can range from three to eight hours.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website for parents,, these insect repellents are not effective at protecting children from bug bites:

  • Backyard bug zappers
  • Bird or bat houses
  • Garlic or Vitamin B1 taken orally
  • Ultrasonic devices
  • Wristbands soaked in chemical repellents

DEET vs. natural insect repellents

The amount of DEET used in insect repellents can range from 10 to 30 percent depending on the product. If you choose to use an insect repellent containing DEET, the AAP recommends using a product with less than 30 percent DEET on children. But some parents prefer to go the more natural route.

Kelli Miler took her family on a hike through a rainforest in Hawaii and opted to use a natural remedy. “I used lavender oil… Every other person in our hike group used other products [and] they all had bites on them,” said Kelli. SheKnows writer Nichole Beaudry and allParenting’s Dr. Mom, Melissa Arca M.D., both use California Baby to protect their children. California Baby contains the essential oils citronella, lemongrass and cedar as an alternative to the toxic chemicals found in some of the other insect repellents on the market.

Baby products for sensitive skin >>

Dos and don’ts for insect repellents


  • Read the labels and precautions.
  • Follow the printed directions.
  • Only apply repellents to exposed skin — and not inside your children’s clothing.
  • Spray repellents in open, ventilated areas.
  • Apply just enough to cover effectively. Over applying will not provide additional coverage.
  • Supervise children around insect repellents.
  • Wash your child’s skin after using insect repellents.
  • Wash your child’s clothing after using insect repellents.


  • Never apply to children younger than 2 months.
  • Avoid spraying directly on your child’s face. Apply insect repellents to the face by hand and avoid contact with eyes and mouth.
  • Never apply on open cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Avoid products with a combination of DEET and sunscreen. DEET can make the sun protection less effective and can overexpose your child to DEET because of frequent application.


More on summer skin and health for kids

Protect your children with UV-blocking clothing
New sunscreen guidelines: What you need to know
Beware: Summer is dangerous for children

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